By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Lotus court case starts today
- Fernandes loses support from Hunt
- Renault sponsorship could be at stake
Today an English High Court in London will be the scene of one of the most controversial disputes ever seen in Formula One: the legal battle between two Formula One teams who both claim the right to use the Lotus brand name. Both parties tried to settle the matter outside court, but apparently neither of them were prepared to make any concessions, and Team Lotus owner Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes and the Malaysian Group Lotus are now locked into a bitter fight.
Group Lotus is the owner of the sports car manufacturer Lotus, and also the new sponsor of the Renault Formula One team, and last year Renault and Group Lotus announced they would enter the 2011 season under the name Lotus Renault GP. Fernandes’ team was operating under the Lotus Racing name, but Group Lotus decided to revoke the five-year license they had given to Fernandes.
Fernandes was disappointed to say the least, and subsequently told he had bought the Lotus brand name from David Hunt, who had bought the name after the demise of the original Lotus Formula One team in 1994. Although the general consensus was that Hunt, brother of 1976 Formula One world champion James Hunt, supported Fernandes and his team, yesterday the UK Telegraph reported the Malaysian has in fact lost Hunt’s support.
According to Hunt Fernandes backed out of the deal in early January 2011, and refused to pay for the deal he had struck. “When we had to make the Team Lotus staff redundant in 1995 I made a promise to them and the fans to return it to Formula One in the hands of a worthy custodian, and initially I had high hopes that Tony, Din and Nasa [his business partners] were going to tick the boxes,” Hunt said to the UK Telegraph.
All I’m looking for is for Tony to stick to his word and honour our agreement
“He’s apparently changed his mind at the 11th hour, by his own admission, now that I’ve done so much work on his company’s behalf, and he’s trying to renegotiate by offering new terms which are, frankly, ludicrous,” Hunt said. “All I’m looking for is for Tony to stick to his word and honour our agreement. If he doesn’t, then regrettably I don’t see why I should continue to provide assistance and this trial won’t be the last battle he’s facing, even if he wins,” he explained.
Fernandes and his team, also known as 1Malaysia Racing, have now reacted on Hunt’s allegations and denied the team backed out of the deal, and claim it was in fact Hunt who didn’t accept the original terms of the deal anymore, and tried to renegotiate the deal in order to get more money out of it. A spokesman of Team Lotus stated: “Team Lotus has an agreement with David Hunt which was signed by both parties. David Hunt has tried to renegotiate that agreement, which Team Lotus is not prepared to do.”
The English High Court will address all the issues surrounding this controversial battle, including the fact that Group Lotus terminated the five-year license, which was in fact the reason why Fernandes asked for the help of Hunt who owned, and as has emerged now, still owns the Lotus brand name. Layers of both parties have prepared themselves for this legal battle which is expected to last for ten days.
For outsiders this legal battle about the use of the Lotus brand name might look like a charade or a new episode of the Comedy Capers, but in fact there is much at stake for both Lotus teams, the Group Lotus sponsorship deal with Renault is said to be worth more than £100million, and if they would lose this case, they could be forced to terminated their sponsorship.